Montaigne on Virtue

20120410-112035.jpgThree hundred and one dailylit.com episodes of Essays in and Michel de Montaigne serves up another view I 100% agree with, five centuries on. When it comes to ethics the the answer is staring you in the face – in the bathroom mirror.

To ground the recompense of virtuous actions upon the approbation of others is too uncertain and unsafe a foundation, especially in so corrupt and ignorant an age as this.

“What before had been vices are now manners.” – Seneca

You yourself only know if you are cowardly and cruel, loyal and devout: others see you not, and only guess at you by uncertain conjectures, and do not so much see your nature as your art; rely not therefore upon their opinions, but stick to your own:

“Thou must employ thy own judgment upon thyself; great is the weight of thy own conscience in the discovery of virtues and vices: which taken away, all things are lost.” – Cicero

Or as my son’s preferred sage Master Yoda might say: the keeper of your own conscience are you.

Luke Skywalker

I read a survey in the week which said 70% of grandparents think their children are too soft in disciplining their kids. I spoke to a grandmother at work about it and she laughed but agreed. She said her grandson behaves (marginally) better with her, but is a real tearaway with his parents.

Too much choice and negotiation these days we agreed. But she coughed one clue to her tricks of the trade: ‘It’s a grandparent’s right to treat their grandkids”… Hmmm where have I heard that before?

The ‘force’ is strong with my son at the moment. Smiling and ignoring instructions has given way to running off laughing and disagreeing with everything. Cheeky monkey.

In the literature this looks like early onset ‘oppositional behaviour’. For which, the prescription is unconditional love and non-negotiable boundaries enforced reasonably – not cajoled with treats. No problem with the unconditional love, but treats have become a bad habit through these long summer holidays. Still he’s starting school next week. That’ll knock him into shape.

All the attention this week has been on his sister starting her new school. That has been an aggravator. Picking her up, with him, he decided to act up. First, running in circles round the climbing frame evading me. Then running around his sister’s rather stern new headmistress. All this, needless to say, against my very explicit instructions.

Back in the car, with controlled fury, I found myself quoting the daddy of daddies – Darth Vader. I gave him a right old talking to. In response to his red-faced “I’m not your friend anymore”, I boomed “I am your father.” Reminding him my job is to set the rules and bring him up properly, I closed with every parent’s classic “You don’t know it now, but one day you’ll thank me for this.”

With both my kids at around this age, I’ve been reminded of the scene in the first Star Wars trilogy when Luke attempts to lift an X-wing fighter from a swamp using only the power of the force. His tutor Yoda looks on quietly amazed.

So it is with pre-school children in my experience. They are intrigued by clumsily smacking large slabs of behaviour into their parents – just to see what happens. Like Luke with the X-wing they dimly understand how, but they move their parents about and get a reaction.

As my mum, and his grandmother, said to me once “Our job is not to be your friend, it’s to be your parents”. Wise words. My son is bright as a button, but he is not a Jedi yet. ‘Teach him I will’ as Yoda would say.